Mr RAMSEY (Grey–Government Whip) (10:12): I rise again to speak in this place on the supply of doctors in rural areas. I prepared a report about two years ago, and updated it 12 months ago, with some suggestions to address this shortfall. Twelve months ago there were 28 vacancies listed in rural South Australia and 19 of those were either within or substantially within my electorate of Grey. The government has been doing a lot of good work with undergraduates coming out for one-year placements in places like Whyalla and Port Lincoln. I think that all helps, and we have worked with the rural registrar program. But here we are 12 months later and we have 57 vacancies in South Australia, not 28, and there are 29 vacancies in my electorate of Grey. We are heading for a train wreck.
This is something I’ve been predicting for quite some time. I was involved with hospital boards intensely in the nineties, and it was a period in Australia when we had chronic over servicing in the cities because we had too many doctors in Australia. As a result, governments of the day cut the training numbers for doctors. They kept their foot on the neck of that training number for too long and, consequently, we had a shortage of doctors in Australia. We’ve imported a lot of doctors. A lot of internationally trained doctors have come into Australia in the last 10 or 15 years, and we have used those internationally trained doctors-and thank goodness we’ve been able to get them; don’t let me talk them down in any way-to plug the holes in the supply of rural doctors. As part of their immigration procedure, we allow these people to come into Australia but they have to go and practice in a place like Port Augusta or Coober Pedy or wherever it might be in more remote Australia. Of course, we won’t tell our Australian trained doctors where to go when they get their qualifications.
Now, of course, we have ramped the numbers up. Australian doctors are coming out of universities in their thousands. They are getting their qualifications, and we are having trouble enticing them into rural areas. I confidently predict that, in response to those increasing numbers, we will cut the immigration numbers for international doctors and we will be left without anyone in the country.
My own country town has just lost its doctor in the last two weeks. I have people all over the place wondering what on earth we are going to do to keep our hospitals open and our communities viable. I have been saying for some time that we need to address this in a supply sense. Each doctor receives almost by rote a Medicare provider number. Medicare bulk-billing is providing 85 per cent of their income. I think we should be providing postcode-specific Medicare provider numbers. Doctors will go where we need service, rather than where they want to live. (Time expired)